Late last week a story surfaced in Politico that Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) would today officially announce a challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) for the seat Nelson has held since 2001. Such is not the case.
Understanding that the reporter never discussed Mack’s intentions personally with the congressman, but rather quoted an ‘anonymous source close to the Mack campaign,’ it was written that an announcement of candidacy would be imminently forthcoming. Mr. Mack corrected the story retorting that he would indeed make a statement but only to detail his reasons for not running statewide. He says family concerns and wanting to continue his service in the House influenced the decision not to engage Nelson. Rep. Mack, 43, first won his House seat in 2004 and will seek re-election next year.
This leaves state Senate President Mike Haridopolos as the only significant Republican currently in the race against Nelson. The veteran Democratic senator, commonly viewed to be at least marginally vulnerable in the next election, has confirmed that he will seek a third term. Haridopolos has been active on the fundraising trail and promises to report more than seven figures in receipts on his 2011 first quarter Federal Election Commission disclosure report due April 15. Nelson had over $3 million cash-on-hand according to his year-end 2010 filing.
Mack was viewed as having very strong potential as a statewide candidate, polling atop all preliminary Florida Senate Republican primary surveys. This is likely because of his name familiarity with voters. His father, Connie Mack III, served in the Senate for the 12 years prior to Nelson and spent three terms in the House. Connie Mack, Sr., who shortened his name from Cornelius McGillicuddy, is a legendary Hall of Fame baseball owner and manager.
Without Rep. Mack on the statewide ballot, the Republicans will likely be looking for a candidate stronger than Haridopolos to wage a potentially winning campaign against Nelson. In his two Senate general election victories (2000 and 2006), Mr. Nelson posted winning totals of 51 and 60 percent, defeating then-Rep. and future Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) and then-Rep. and former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, respectively. Nelson spent six terms in the House, spanning 1979-1991. He was twice elected as Florida treasurer, insurance commissioner & fire marshal (1994; 1998).
Other potential Republican candidates include former interim Sen. George LeMieux, who had said repeatedly during his 18-month stint in the Senate, filling the unexpired term of Mel Martinez (R), that he planned to challenge Nelson in 2012 but seemed to back away from those intentions upon leaving office. Mack’s decision not to enter the race could now lead to LeMieux becoming a candidate. The ex-majority leader of the Florida State House, Adam Hasner, is also a likely Senatorial contender.
It’s also possible that Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL-13) may reconsider previous statements saying he was unlikely to run statewide in 2012. The congressman mused recently that being appointed as a member of the important House Ways & Means Committee was quelling his desire to run for Senate, but Mack’s decision could become an impetus for him to re-focus on a battle against the 68-year-old Nelson.
The Florida seat figures prominently in any Republican scenario to gain control of the Senate next year. Down 47-53, the GOP needs a minimum net conversion of four seats to wrest away the Democratic majority. Only having to defend 10 of the 33 in-cycle seats, with three that are open (Arizona-Kyl; Nevada-Ensign; Texas-Hutchison), the Republicans are in strong position to turn several Democratic states, such as the open seats in North Dakota (Conrad) and Virginia (Webb). Democrats are heavy favorites to hold their incumbent retirement seats in Connecticut (Lieberman-I), Hawaii (Akaka), and New Mexico (Bingaman), though the latter two could become highly competitive under the right circumstances.
In terms of incumbent Democratic vulnerabilities, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson tops the list and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Montana’s Jon Tester will also face toss-up re-election challenges. Going hard after Bill Nelson certainly expands the GOP political playing field but, without Mack as a candidate, the Republican task of converting the Sunshine State clearly becomes more difficult.
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